MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's fan list reads like a who's who of some of the richest people in America – financial gurus, a Las Vegas casino president, even an NBA team owner.
And they came up big for the embattled governor, taking advantage of a quirk in state law to help Walker shatter Wisconsin political fundraising records as he faces a pair of recall elections this spring.
Walker set the record for a state office with $12.1 million raised last year. Campaign finance records filed Monday show he has already easily surpassed that this year, raising $13.1 million between Jan. 18 and last week. He spent nearly $11 million and had almost $4.9 million in the bank.
His biggest donor was Diane M. Hendricks, founder of Beloit-based American Builders and Contractors Supply Co. Inc. Forbes estimates she's worth $2.8 billion. She gave the governor $500,000. She did not immediately return messages left through her company spokeswoman.
The next two biggest donors were Sheldon Adelson, chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands casino, and Richard DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and co-founder of the Amway Corp., a direct-sales company now under the Alticor company umbrella. Both gave Walker $250,000. Attempts to reach them Monday evening were unsuccessful.
Five people each gave Walker $100,000, including John W. Childs, chief executive officer of Boston equity firm J.W. Childs Associates; Warren A. Stephens, chief executive officer of Stephens Inc., a financial management company based in Little Rock, Ark.; Robert Kern, founder of Waukesha, Wis.-based generator manufacturer Generac, and his wife, Patricia Kern; and Patrick G. Ryan, founder of the Ryan Specialty Group, a Chicago brokerage firm.
The donors and their money underscore how Walker's reputation has spread throughout conservative circles after he pushed through legislation last year stripping most public union workers of nearly all their bargaining rights. Walker said he made the moves to help the state deal with its budget deficit, but Democrats saw the changes as an all-out assault on unions, one of their key campaign supporters.
Looking for revenge, Democrats have forced Walker and five other Republicans into recalls. Party primaries are set for May 8, with a general election to follow June 5.
But Wisconsin law permits recall targets to collect unlimited donations from the day the first group registers with the state against them until the state Government Accountability Board schedules the elections. In Walker's case, the first recall committee registered Nov. 4, and the board set the elections on March 30, allowing the governor to raise unprecedented amounts of money for five months.
He's spent the time crisscrossing the country, hob-knobbing with the wealthy and the famous. He attended a Christmas party thrown by conservative power broker Grover Norquist and raised money with Hank Greenberg, founder and former CEO of American International Group, at his Manhattan office. He was in Oklahoma last month, mingling with the corporate elite and top Republicans at a fundraiser co-sponsored by Koch Industries, the oil company led by billionaire brothers who are top backers of conservative causes nationwide.
The connections he's built have paid off – none of his challengers' ledgers is even in the same galaxy.
Monday's filings show Walker's opponent in the Republican primary, college-aged political protester Arthur Kohl-Riggs, raised just $2,045 and spent about $480 between Jan. 1 and April 23. He had $1,565 in the bank.
The two Democratic front-runners, Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, are light-years behind him as well.
Falk's report showed she raised $977,059 and spent $884,859 between Jan. 1 and April 23. She had $118,062 on hand. Barrett, who didn't enter the race until March 30, raised $831,508 and spent $808,975. He had $475,496 on hand.
Falk and Barrett's campaigns both issued similar statements blasting Walker for traveling around the country rather than focusing on job creation in Wisconsin. State Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski issued a statement calling Walker's totals "breathtaking."
"It is true we will be badly outspent. It is also true that, at the end of the day, and until Walker makes it otherwise, money does not vote," Zielinski said. "The people vote. And it is the people of Wisconsin who will win victory over Scott Walker on June 5th."